The Mario Kart series first debuted in 1992 on the Super Nintendo. Since then sequels have been released on every Nintendo platform bar the Virtual Boy. If there's a Nintendo platform released, then chances are there will be be an accompanying Mario Kart title. Every sequel since Super Mario Kart has divided opinion, with Double Dash considered by most to be the weakest entry in the series. Mario Kart is back on a console in Mario Kart Wii, but is the game a decent addition to the franchise or should Mario Kart fans hunt around for their old SNES?
Mario Kart Wii brings with it a whole new host of new features. For the RRP of a new release title Mario Kart Wii comes bundled with a new peripheral, the Wii Wheel. The Wii remote simply slides into the Wii Wheel on the side and players can use the Wii Wheel to make it a little easier to control the vehicles. Slipping the remote into the Wii Wheel is remarkably simple and what makes the Wii Wheel so impressive is the fact that it feels so sturdy. Sure, it's just a white piece of plastic, but it feels pretty solid. The game does only come bundled with the one Wii Wheel, but additional Wii Wheels are available at the modest price of $19.95.
The new additions to the series don't stop with the inclusion of a new peripheral. Gameplay wise a few changes have been made to the series as well. First up is the inclusion of a new vehicle type, bikes. Motorbikes do handle different than karts, but really do add to Mario Kart Wii, rather than detract from it. For each character in the game (of which there are twelve) players can choose to use either a kart or a motorbike. There are also more racers on the track at once, with races now containing eleven other opponents, taking the total number of competitors on track to a decent twelve. Racers in Mario Kart Wii are now able to perform tricks, by flicking the Wii remote up, down, left or right after your character hits a ramp you can perform a trick, which will award the player a speed boost.
The single player options in Mario Kart Wii have also been modified just a little. The main single player mode is once again the Grand Prix Mode. Races are divided up into cups which are seperated into three classes; 50CC, 100CC and 150CC. 50CC limits races to karts only, 100CC only features bikes and 150CC is devoted to karts and bikes. Aside from the Grand Prix mode there is also a time trial option, as well as a straight forward VS race with customer settings and a battle mode with teams. The battle mode has been modified a little, the races go for three minutes and there is no individual battle options, just team battles. Overall, the single player options are pretty light, with the Grand Prix setup beginning to get a little tired now.
One thing Mario Kart Wii features a lot of is multiplayer options. There are local multiplayer options for up to four players, as well as support for the Nintendo WFC. After connecting to the online service there are three options, players can compete worldwide, or just against players on their continent or just with players on their friends list. After selecting who to compete against there are two options, vs race and battle. After selecting a mode and a vehicle Mario Kart Wii will search for players and then spin around a virtual globe, showing which continent your opponents are from. Players can vote for stages or select a random stage. We've heard various reports about the reliability of Mario Kart Wii online but we had no problems at all online, the gameplay was smooth and connecting wasn't an issue at all. Even though we were playing against opponents all across the world we had no issues at all with lag. It's also worth noting that the game also includes support for up to two players online on the one Wii, meaning that if you have a friend over then they can jump online and race as well.
Mario Kart is also the first title we're aware of that comes with its own channel. The Mario Kart channel can be accessed in game to view rankings and competition data, but it can also be installed on the main Wii menu, meaning you can access the rankings, ghost data and friends data without inserting the Mario Kart disk, which is a great little addition.
There may have been several changes for Mario Kart Wii but the gameplay is as enjoyable as ever. The game supports several control systems and even though holding the Wheel is intuitive there are several other control systems to choose from. Players can plug in a classic controller or a Gamecube controller and race a little more intuitively, or they can plug a nunchuk into the Wii Remote and use the nunchuk to steer the karts and motorbikes.
While Mario Kart Wii is a solid racing game, a lot of the time it isn't actually the racing which dictates which player comes first. As players race through a multicoloured box they will be awarded a power up, there are some new power ups (such as one which blocks the screen temporarily and the dreaded blue shell) and these power ups do have the opportunity to change the course of the race, the power ups also aren't awarded randomly, but as always, appear to be awarded based on a player's position in a race. Those who find themselves at the front of the pack will keep picking up bananas, those at the back of the pack will probably get a gold mushroom, or some red shells. Despite this frustration (and even though we're used to it now considering every Mario Kart has done this) it's still incredibly annoying to be leading a race, only to end up near last place just because you've been hit with a red shell or a POW block seconds before the finishing line.
Graphically Mario Kart Wii is a bit of a mixed bag. There are 32 tracks in the game, with 16 of them remasters of existing tracks, so these remastered tracks obviously don't look as good as the new tracks in the game. The game does run at a consistant 60FPS, but overall we'd say the game does end up looking just a little bit better visually than Mario Kart Double Dash. The sound in the game is solid though, with some decent sound effects on display.
Mario Kart Wii isn't a simple update. Nintendo have added new characters, new tracks, a new bundled in peripheral, as well as a new vehicle type (motorcycles) and online play. Even with all these changes, the core extremely fun gameplay of the Mario Kart series has been retained, meaning anyone who liked the previous games should have no hesitation in picking up Mario Kart Wii.